At his first meeting with constituents after his re-election, Green Party of New Brunswick leader and Fredericton South MLA David Coon described the difference between a coalition government and a confidence and supply agreement. It is the latter–a cooperative arrangement not a coalition– that his party is proposing as a possible way forward to maintain stability in the new provincial legislature.
The last minority government in the province was in 1920, when nine United Farmers Party members and two Farmer-Labour members were elected in addition to 24 Liberal and 13 Conservative members. In that legislature, the Liberals had clearly won more seats, so they clearly formed the government. The current local assembly is now faced with a much less straightforward electoral puzzle. With the Greens and People’s Alliance parties with three seats each, and the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives closely matched, whatever arrangement is arrived at, power will be delicately balanced. Importantly, good will and co-operation will be required to achieve a stable government.
David Coon held the post-election riding meeting at Wilmot Church on October 3. About 100 people attended, mostly constituents but also others from outside the Fredericton South riding who wanted to learn more about the Green Party’s plans and share their ideas. The meeting was livestreamed from Coon’s Facebook page and a number of people were viewing and contributing to live chat online during the event. Coon addressed the meeting briefly in both official languages and then invited questions from participants. He stressed that there was “a need to ensure the provision of stable government over a period of time.”
In ongoing discussions with the two major parties, Coon has proposed as template for a possible way forward working with the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democratic Caucus. The BC agreement provides that the BC Green Caucus (with three members) will support the BC NDP government (with 41 seats) for the Throne Speech (confidence) and for the budget speech (supply). The BC Liberal party has 42 seats. This is not a coalition government, because on individual pieces of legislation, the BC Green caucus is free to vote as they wish without any danger to the stability of the government.
Meeting participants raised a number of issues, including bilingualism. Coon stressed that “there would be no erosion on bilingualism,” which is consistent with Green Party of New Brunswick policy to restore and strengthen the integrity of duality and equality of both official language communities in health care, education, provision of services, and leadership of institutions.
Proportional representation was an issue of concern raised by representatives of Fair Vote Canada, the NDP and other participants. Coon stressed that proportional representation was an important Green Party platform issue. Due to the confidential nature of ongoing discussions, he could not say what particular issues he was raising with the two main party leaders. When asked by Chris Durrant, the former NDP candidate for the riding, “Are you going to promote proportional representation in this minority government?” Coon replied: “It remains to be seen whether that would be part of our strategy.”
Wayne Brooks of St. Mary’s First Nation asked why Coon had not accepted an invitation issued to all party leaders to attend a pre-election meeting in their community, and Coon replied that he had not received or at least seen the invitation and that he would certainly have attended if he had. Replying to a question from Brooks about the Sisson mine development, Coon highlighted the importance of the Nashwaak watershed and stated that he was totally opposed to the proposed tailings pond.
Other issues raised from the floor included public transport, homelessness, poverty, basic minimum income, union and worker’s rights, workers’ safety and health insurance. On social issues in general, Coon said that neither of the major parties was prepared to discuss Green Party policies but that he would continue to fight for equity, fairness and an end to poverty in the province. He condemned “government enforced poverty” and reiterated his party’s support for a guaranteed basic income and a raise in the minimum wage. He also raised the issue of retired miners suffering from various employment related health issues not covered by workplace insurance. He noted that: “Workplace safety in general is still based on 1970s standards which is a disgrace.” Coon also confirmed his ongoing support for reinstating the defined benefit pension plan that was changed to a defined contribution plan for current and retired provincial government workers.
In response to a question about if another provincial election was looming, Coon stated that he hoped the government would be stable for a while yet but the first challenge was to elect a speaker for the new legislature. He explained the process: the names of all MLAs, except party leaders, are listed in a file as possible speaker. MLAs can then remove their names from the list. If nobody allows their name to stand for speaker, an election must be called. So far, nobody has offered, and, given the balance of seats in the new legislature, it is a difficult situation.
Toward the end of the meeting a speaker from the floor suggested that David Coon should accept the position of Minister for the Environment in a coalition government. This was wildly applauded, indicative of the strong support he has in his riding. Coon won his seat this time around by topping all 33 polls in the Fredericton South riding on election day, September 24.
Gerry McAlister is a constituent in the Fredericton South riding, a member of the Green Party, and a volunteer distributor for The Brief, the NB Media Co-op monthly publication.